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‘The Gift of the Magi’

What last week’s instalment of Fargo promised, episode five of season two delivered: war. Opening with some brutal bloodshed, The Gift of the Magi served as a real aesthetic return to what this show is known for. Blood, guts and some nervy characters made up this very strong episode.

The allusions to Ronald Reagan finally started to bear some relevance to the series – it all felt like showrunner Noah Hawley was just trying to prove to us how much he knew about the ‘70s until now – as in an inspired juxtaposition the presidential hopeful’s speech about the foundations of civilisation and the importance of family was played over the brutal massacre orchestrated by Hanzee Dent. It symbolised the crossover of domestic life and violent conflict, a theme that has loomed over the Fargo franchise since the 1996 film and that was very much brought to its forefront last week when Lou Solverson attempted to help the hapless Blomquists.fargo-season-2-episode-5-2Peggy and Ed were at their most brilliantly deluded this week, as the former sought to escape to California after Lou’s discoveries last episode, and the latter insisted on continuing with their cover story. The decaying nature of their relationship has been so gradually yet brilliantly portrayed, and their awkward exchanges were more uncomfortable than ever as audiences were left to believe that Lou’s suggestion that they may “already be dead” is closer to being true than ever. Or, at least it would be if the Gerhardts were any good at assassinating butchers.

Yes, poor Charlie failed to carry out his orders as he found himself mesmerised by Ed’s colleague with morbid interests; ironically the root of her soliloquising about the pointlessness of life saved his on Charlie’s first attempt. His second resulted in Ed’s second killing and a flaming building, an absolute disaster that has squandered the butcher’s hopes of starting a family with his wife. Not that that was ever really on the cards.

Quite like the short story that is the episode’s namesake (a poor woman sells her hair to buy her husband a pocket watch fob chain, only to find that he sold his watch to buy her some hair combs) The Gift of the Magi portrayed a couple in a desperate relationship, trying to do the right thing but only making things worse for themselves. In this case it is Peggy that performs a selfless yet redundant act, as she commits to the life Ed wants and sells her car so that he may buy the butcher’s shop. Of course by the time she gets back, his dreams are quite literally up in flames.fargo-season-2-episode-5-1Bokeem Woodbine put in another belter of a performance as the sinister gentleman Mike Milligan, seething from the massacre in the episode’s opening and yet so composed. In a series that unusually has provided us with few actually compelling characters, the seductively malevolent Milligan is a true gem and deserves a lot more screen time than he is getting. Patrick Wilson’s Lou Solverson meanwhile had a marginal role as head of Reagan’s detail and Floyd Gerhardt, played by the fantastic Jean Smart, was also given much less to do.

We are plunging further and further into conflicts that are no closer to being resolved than when they were conceived, as Fargo seeks to amp up the action and the consequences in what is turning out to be a more familiar direction. Though the show is still not really hitting the heights of last year, judged on its own merits The Gift of the Magi was possibly this season’s best episode yet.

★★★★

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